Probe on Ousted Priest Underway: Victim Files Civil Lawsuit

By Susan Hunter
Valley Gazette
July 14, 2010

SEYMOUR The Archdiocese of Hartford is conducting an investigation into accusations made against The Rev. Stephen Bzdyra, who has been the priest at St. Augustine Church in Seymour for the past two years.

William Dotson, 34, a former altar boy, has filed suit against Rev. Bzdyra for alleged sexual abuse that took place from 1985 to 1990 in two separate Connecticut parishes.

Bzdyra will not be returning to his post as the priest at St. Augustine Church in Seymour, according to the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Bzdyra left the country for a pilgrimage in Europe on July 7. That was the same day that the Archdiocese of Hartford received a press release regarding the lawsuit from Dotson's attorney, Joel Faxon of the Stratton Faxon law firm in New Haven, according to the Rev. John P. Gatzak, spokesman for the Archdiocese.

"It was the first time we had any inkling there was any accusation leveled against Father Bzdyra," Gatzak said.

Officials looked into the matter, he said, and were able to reach Bzdyra on July 8, informing him he had been put on administrative leave.

The leave, which was detailed in a July 8 letter from Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, bars him from functioning as a priest.

"He won't be returning to St. Augustine Parish when he comes back," Gatzak said.

The outcome of the investigation will determine whether he is allowed back into the ministry or whether the suspension is permanent.

The priest repeatedly sexually molested Dotson, and his actions included whipping and raping the boy, according to the civil lawsuit filed July 7 in New Haven Superior Court.

Bzdyra also gave the boy gifts and hush money, according to the lawsuit, and threatened to report Dotson's mother to the state welfare department if the boy told anyone about the attacks.

The alleged molestation occurred at St. Francis Church in New Haven and at St. Hedwig Church in Naugatuck, and both churches are being sued, along with the Hartford Archdiocese.

Lawsuit cites abuse history

Dotson decided to come forth about the alleged attacks after Bzdyra recently tried to become a friend of his son's on Facebook.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Faxon said. "He knew he had to protect his son and other children from this monster."

As a young altar boy, Dotson spent time at the St. Francis and St. Hedwig rectories and at Bzdyra's New Haven home.

During repeated sexual molestations, Bzdyra "forced himself on William Dotson, whipping and raping the minor plaintiff," the lawsuit states, and forced him to perform sexual acts.

Bzdyra would physically assault and injure Dotson, according to the lawsuit, and forced him into illegal drug use as a minor.

Dotson endured his first experience of abuse at age 10 after a catechism class when Bzdyra took him to the basement and accused him of telling a lie during class, according to the Stratton Faxon press release.

The priest pulled down his pants, whipped him with his belt and anally raped him, according to the press release. He told the boy he would report Dotson's mother to the welfare department for "having too many jobs," and he would be taken away from his family.

Bzdyra's acts of physical and sexual abuse quickly became a pattern, Faxon said, and over time the priest gave Dotson two cars, a washer and dryer, cash and liquor as bribes.

"That's not the usual behavior of a priest unless he had something to hide or cover up," Faxon said. "Dotson knew it would hurt his mother tremendously to know the truth, and he didn't want her blaming him for Bzdyra's calculated crimes. Now as an adult and father of three young children, Dotson feels it is necessary to finally reveal his abused past.

"One thing is clear," Faxon said. "Bzdyra carefully preyed on children who he knew would be vulnerable targets, a characteristic of any abusive pedophile."

As a result of Bzdyra's "reckless sexual battery," Dotson has suffered "severe pain and bodily intrusion and severe emotional injures," according to the lawsuit, and will continue to incur expenses related to counseling and therapy, lost wages, employment and career opportunities.

The diocese failed to protect Dotson from sexual battery and exploitation at the hands of Bzdyra, according to the lawsuit, and its negligence caused Dotson emotional distress.

St. Francis and St. Hedwig churches were also negligent in failing to prohibit priests from counseling minors in private church areas, the lawsuit states, and in failing to properly supervise Bzdyra in order to protect minors from harm.

Dotson is claiming monetary damages in excess of $15,000, punitive damages and other appropriate relief.

Protecting children

Gatzak said he can't comment on the Bzdyra case specifically, since it's an active lawsuit, but he can describe general policies put into place at the Hartford Archdiocese over the past 20 years that are intended to protect children and young people.

When allegations are received about priests, they're placed on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, he said.

"If the allegations are true, the priest is not in the position to harm anyone else," he said, and the accused would never be allowed to function as a priest.

The policy was put into effect by the Bishops of the United States as part of the 2001 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Gatzak said. That document was an update of a 1991 policy that came out against the sexual abuse of young people.

The Archdiocese of Hartford conducts background investigations into job applicants and volunteers, and there is a policy on ministerial conduct and a mandatory training program for adult volunteers that "sensitizes them about the horrors of sexual abuse," Gatzak said.

A program called the Child Lures Prevention Program educates children to recognize "good touch from bad touch," he said, and about lures that may entrap them. They're also taught not to keep secrets and to identify people they can trust.

"These safeguards were put into place so as not to repeat past history," Gatzak said.

In the past, an abusive priest would be removed from his post and sent to therapy. In most cases, when the therapy was complete, the therapist would alert the archdiocese and give the OK for the priest to return to a parish.

Often, the priest's behavior would repeat itself.

"No one understood the nature of pedophilia," Gatzak said.

Now, if a priest is found to be guilty of accusations, he will be removed from the ministry and never be allowed to wear a Roman collar or refer to himself as a priest, he said.

Bzdyra's investigation wouldn't be a full-blown criminal probe, he said, but would include interviews with various people, including the accused priest.

"If the alleged victim would talk to us, we would talk to him," Gatzak said.

Bzdyra's case couldn't reach criminal court, since the statute of limitations has expired, Faxon said.

He said Bzdyra and the Archdiocese have been named in another lawsuit currently active in the state Supreme Court. The lawsuit was filed by the former principal of St. Hedwig School.

"My understanding is that children at the school complained to the principal about sexual misconduct regarding Bzdyra," Faxon said.

She asked Bzdyra about it, and he said, "You're on my side," and told her call to the state Department of Children and Families about one of the children who had complained. "She refused, and he fired her," Faxon said.

Now that Bzdyra has left St. Augustine Church, a temporary administrator is expected to be named for the parish this week, Gatzak said.

A church office employee reached Monday by telephone refused to comment on the matter.

The Archdiocese asks that anyone with information regarding the accusations against Bzdyra call the Chancery Office at 860-541-6491 or write to the Office at 1341 Farmington Ave., Hartford CT 06105-3784.


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